After a tumultuous year at the Smithtown Animal Shelter, a new director has been appointed and a fresh start seems certain.
The Smithtown Town Board has voted in Susan Hansen, of Rocky Point, and she began her new post on Wednesday, Aug. 5.
“I’ve been an animal advocate for as long as I can remember, and I want to make a difference,” Hansen said in a phone interview.
Hansen has volunteered at multiple animal shelters including Manhattan Shelter, Brookhaven Municipal Animal Shelter, the Riverhead Municipal Animal Shelter and the North Fork Animal Welfare League.
But she has done more than just volunteer; she is also the founder of a nonprofit animal welfare organization that promotes shelter reform.
A Better Shelter Inc. provides assistance to local animal welfare organizations, shelters and communities through fundraising, adoption efforts and TNR, or trap, neuter, return. TNR is a proven method to help control the feral cat population.
Hansen’s expertise goes beyond animal advocacy; she has been a computer programmer for more than 20 years and hopes to bring her understanding of computer programs to the animal shelter, to update record keeping.
“I want to use my experience with computers and computer programs to help integrate old procedures and policies with new ones, and make the shelter a more welcoming and friendly environment,” Hansen said.
Smithtown Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), who took on the role of animal shelter liaison earlier this year, was a part of the decision to bring in Hansen.
“She’s going to bring this shelter into the 21st century and set up new procedures and policies, including a new volunteer training program which will be much more intensive,” Nowick said in a phone interview.
The volunteer training program would help teach volunteers that aren’t familiar with certain animals how to interact with them and set certain age groups with certain hours to volunteer.
“Usually animals are kept separate, I want to introduce play groups, and make this a more progressive shelter,” Hansen said. She hopes that this new volunteer program would lead to an increase in adoption rates.
Nowick felt one of Hansen’s most unique skills she brings to the shelter is that she is a grant writer. If the shelter was able to apply for and receive grants, then new opportunities could be brought to the shelter, like getting a vet to visit the shelter two to three days a week, or having a behaviorist come to evaluate the animals and prepare them for adoption.
“Our mission isn’t to be a shelter, it’s to be a middle home, to get pets adopted,” Nowick said.
Hansen has worked with the Suffolk County Department of Public Works as a grant analyst, where she provided support for federal and state grants awarded to Suffolk County.
The previous director, George Beatty, 62, stepped down in June, after more than 30 years, following heavy criticism from Smithtown residents. Citizens deemed Beatty’s leadership role inadequate and the conditions animals lived in and were cared for at the shelter unacceptable.
“I was aware of what was happening with the shelter, and I recognized that there was a need for change there,” Hansen said.
She said she is looking forward to working with the staff and the community, and plans to give this new job “110 percent.”